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From The Nigerian Guardian
PRESIDENT Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday made public his detailed rebuttal of the 19-point allegations of impeachable offences leveled against him by the House of Representatives.
The president who maintained that he had neither violated the constitution nor sought personal gain in all actions since assuming office in 1999, had presented the response to the reconciliation panel raised by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into the crisis between the federal executive and the legislature.
The House of Representatives, on August 13, gave President Obasanjo a two-week ultimatum to resign or be impeached over alleged constitutional breaches.
The Senate had much earlier raised a panel to investigate alleged disobedience of Appropriation Acts by the president.
But in his reaction, made available to the press yesterday by his Senior Special Assistant (Media), Mr. Tunji Oseni, Obasanjo said the face-off was a result of "abundant evidence of lack of information, misinformation and disinformation between the executive and the legislative arms of government."
He added: "I am not angry with the complainant (House of Representatives). From me, you shall hear nothing but the truth. All that I have done, I have done according to law. All that I have done I have done in the best interest of our great country."
The president noted that he was not being accused of corruption or misuse of power.
He said: "In a country as complex and complicated as ours, no single man or woman can have all the answers. It is for this reason that I have always consulted widely and been open to suggestions from all quarters. Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for the governance of the country is mine and it is I who must answer when question like now and before the bar of the public."
President Obasanjo said he considered what was forwarded to the party by the Speaker Ghali Umar Na'Abba "as a complaint to be explained rather than a query to be answered as there is no legal basis for such." And point by point he stated his defence.
On the allegation that he amended the 2002 budget by reducing the capital provision by 44 per cent without legislative approval, the president said that shortly after the Appropriation Act was passed, it became apparent that its revenue projections were unrealistic.
Obasanjo said he immediately took the initiative of inviting the leadership of the National Assembly to a meeting on June 4, 2002 to brief them on the "implications of the revenue shortfalls as well as the judgment of the Supreme Court on the 2002 Appropriations."
The president added that he had a meeting with a delegation of nine senators on June 16, led by the Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim.
He disclosed that the Senate delegation was informed that there had been a significant shortfall in the revenue profile of the budget, "notably the unrealised $1.3 billion and $1.2 billion as a result of the botched privatisation of NITEL and non-recovery as yet, of looted funds respectively."
At that meeting, both the executive and the Senate delegation agreed to constitute a committee of 12 persons, comprising six persons from each arm to prioritise the budget. The committee was to be headed by Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Obasanjo said he promptly constituted the members from the executive, adding that the legislators, however, declined from forwarding a list of its members. He was therefore, left with no choice but to "direct that the prioritisation exercise should proceed as planned."
He then added: "The National Assembly was notified of the outcome of the exercise on August 10, 2002 as well as my intention to send a supplementary bill to the National Assembly in respect of some outstanding programmes and projects, inadvertently omitted from the 2002 Appropriations."
Obasanjo stressed that the prioritisation exercise was limited to putting preferential order to the projects already included in the approved Appropriation Act, within the limits of the resources available to implement the budget. It neither involved new expenditure nor a reduction of the appropriations in the approved budget."
On the allegation that by presidential fiat he amended the revenue allocation act, which amounts to a violation of S. 162 (1) and (2) and S. 313 of the 1999 Constitution, Obasanjo said the legislators' argument could not stand the test of close scrutiny.
He said that consequent upon the Supreme Court's judgment on the onshore/offshore dispute, he constituted a committee under the chairmanship of the justice minister to advise him on its implication, particularly as it affected the 2002 budget and the principle of derivation.
He spoke further: "At that time, tension was rising in the country, especially in those littoral states most affected by the judgment, it was clear that action needed to be taken quickly to reduce or eliminate tension and avoid possible grounding of the machinery of government."
Arguing that he took his action "in absolute good faith as necessitated by the exigencies brought about by the volatile situation at hand," President Obasanjo added that he was also guided by the Supreme Court's judgment which touched on S. 315 (2) of the constitution.
The sub section vests in the "Appropriate authority" power to modify any existing law he considers necessary to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the constitution.
S. 315 (4) defines "modification" as including "addition, alteration, omission or repeal."
Obasanjo stated: "It is apparent from the above that I acted within the limits of the powers conferred on me by the constitution in the best interest of the nation and as dictated by exigencies of the time."
Another allegation was that he had consistently indulged in extra budgetary expenditure contrary to Section 80 (2), (3) and (4) of the constitution, particularly on the National Stadium contract in excess of appropriated sums, increase in the expenditure for the National Identity Card project from N5.9 billion to N9.5 billion and the purchase and furnishing of 63 houses for ministers to the tune of N3,019,153,178.06 without budgetary approval.
But in his response, Obasanjo said contrary to the allegation on the National Stadium contract, his expenditure so far had been below the appropriated amount.
He said: "The contract for the National Stadium, Abuja was awarded on the basis that payment to contractors was to be sequenced over three years of successive budgetary appropriations. In the 2001 budget, N12.8 billion was appropriated for the National Stadium, out of which N8 billion has been paid leaving a positive balance of N4.8 billion."
On the I.D Card, the president who noted that the importance of the project and its chequered history of delay, urged the panel to recall that the contract was awarded to a French firm, SAGEM AG, after a transparent bidding.
He added that contrary to the legislators' allegation, what had been spent on the project is less than the appropriated sum. The budget vote was N11.931 billion while the expenditure is N9.5 billion, leaving a credit balance of N2.431 billion.
On the purchase of houses for ministers, the President noted that the legislators faced a similar accommodation problem on resumption of office, which led to huge sums being given to them in lieu of the accommodation.
He added that contrary to the allegation, what was expended for the accommodation was N2.8 billion and not N3.019 billion.
The money for the houses, which were bought for ministers and many public office holders that required official accommodation, he added, was taken from the approved supplementary vote for the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (MFCT) in 1999.
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